How Good is Shopfloor Training?

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 2686 , Published on 13 May 2014

“Don’t use that operator, he’s new. He can’t do a thing right”. “What on earth do they teach in the training section, they come with zilch on the floor! It is US, who actually teach them”. “Training dept never works; it’s there because it’s there.

If you’ve worked on an Indian production floor of any industry (other than automobile), you know these statements are commonplace. An inefficiency that everyone knows exists and has accepted and embraced. Needless to mention the pleasure that comes through complaining about “Training department”

Training department exists in all shopfloor but is seldom found to be truly useful. This article depicts a lean approach to make training more effective, described by a lean implementation project performed in a renowned garment manufacturer in India. The project was study-analyze-propose, however the insights found and described are significant and address real shopfloor problems.

Image Courtesy:, scottchan


Training departments seldom work. In most companies, training department is an isolated, seemingly disowned corner of the shopfloor where nobody else ventures because it is ‘too boring’. Nothing really happens there. New workmen (or women), extremely terrified and shaking head to toe, come there, stay for a few days, get their uniforms and then come for the real work, where production floor managers, assuming they really know nothing useful, given them menial jobs, hoping they’ll learn by watching or facing terror.

This was the very same situation in one of the most renowned and prestigious garment manufacturer of India, where I did a Lean implementation project on skill management and training.


What does a training department cost? A few days of salary of training personnel (which are only a handful), new operators (which isn’t much), some space and some tools and machinery.

Now I ask a more relevant question – How much does an ineffective training cost? Here is the answer – Ineffective training leads to ineffective multi-skilling, which leads to ineffective job rotation, which causes loss in production.

In the garment manufacturing unit where I worked briefly, attrition rate was over 100%, along with high absenteeism. This meant a few operators missing every day on one or more machines in the assembly line. To compensate, a new operator, an extra operator or a foreman had to be deployed. It is evident, when an operator not proficient in the machine is put on that machine, his speed or quality of work would be sub-optimal. That person becomes the “bottleneck” for the day. By trial and error and continuous change of deployment of operators, the assembly line could manage to squeeze out about 380-400 units of garments per day. However, by stroke of luck, all usual operators come to work on a particular day and there was no bottleneck as such, the line could manage to give an output of 430-450 units per day, which is to the least of 10% increase in production output, which is 10% increase in revenue

It was evident that it is not the new operators that are bottlenecks here. It is the lack of skill that is the bottleneck.

To answer the question, in this company, ineffective training cost the 10% of its topline.


Measurement is the first step to improvement. As they say – “you can’t improve something that you can’t measure”. Although I like to disagree a little, but what is true is, even if you do try to improve, how would you know for sure?

This is why measurement is the cornerstone of all management. You must measure and come to terms with the situation using numbers, values and units before you try to influence it. So the approach used by us (it’s basically the Lean approach) was beginning training and skill management by measurement.


The Toyota Way suggests that skill can be broken into 5 categories:

1) Fundamental skills – the actual value adding activities required to perform task

2) Ancillary skills – the essential non-value adding activities required to perform task

3) Job specific knowledge – knowledge of physics, machine and materials that the task deals with

4) Accumulated knowhow – the knowledge or expertise that comes with experience

5) Policy – company policy on matters of job, treatment of employees and its objective of existence in general (mission/vision/values etc)

Skill requirement of any repetitive task can be divided into elements and put into these categories.

Consider for example a workstation which stitches the collar to back-piece of a shirt. We can break down this 60 seconds job in elements and put them in the five categories. Operator picks up the two pieces from hanger (ancillary skill) aligns the two pieces together using visual judgment (ancillary skill), operator knows she has to match pattern of design on cloth before pushing them into sewing machine, and to do that she must match the first two lines, middle two lines and bottom two lines (accumulated knowhow), then push into the machine and press foot pedal to begin stitch (fundamental skill), she knows she has set the machine parameters specifically for the material to be stitched (job specific knowledge) and after the stitch, she has to place the stitched piece back on hanger (ancillary skill). She knows she has to stitch 60 pieces an hour to keep up the production rate (policy).

This is an illustration that skill division into elements is possible. If that is possible, so is measurement of proficiency of those skills. Proficiency of each element can be quantified using numbers. It will take the judgment of those who understand the process with all its intricacies. But it’ll take you four or five such people and the Delphi technique to convert their subjective judgments to a fairly objective quantified value.

Below (Table 1) is an example of such skill measurement which I performed at the renowned garment manufacturer.

The figures in skin colour show score of that particular skill required. Higher score means that particular skill required is higher. In the above case, job specific knowledge of “self check” and ancillary skill of “Aligning before stitching” are two most important skills.

Similarly, the ones in yellow show skill criticality of workstations. Higher the score, higher is the skill requirement of that workstation. In the above scenario, “Side panel attach” workstation is the most difficult work station.

Such skill measurement gives way for you to introspect over what is being taught to new operators who are joining. Can SKILLS be taught to operators independently rather than TASKS. Can experiences operators be taught various skills to enable multi-skilling and enable job-rotation?

These are questions that need to be answered looking at the situation in your workplace.


The biggest problem of training department is that it is always disconnected from the realities of shopfloor. There lies the root cause.

If we go back to the basic question, what is the training department supposed to do? The answer is, training

Table 1

department exists to make newly joined operators ready and capable of working effectively on shopfloor.

We can view it training department independently as “Supplier of usable operators to shopfloor” and shopfloor as “demand of usable operators”.

When there is a demand supply situation, the first and foremost action that any smart businessperson would take is Analyze what the exact demand is, and then have the offering built accordingly. The same should apply here.

Most important part of training department is the trainers. Trainers are the people who add real value. Newly joined operators learn by watching and following instructions. Trainers should be picked very carefully and should be developed to the greatest extent possible. Ironically, many conveniently forget that trainers need to be trained too. And the programme of training the trainers should be the most delicately handled part of the entire training sphere. Only if trainers are made effective, everything downstream falls into place.


Trainers should be trained in two aspects – first, the technical skills and second, what the shopfloor demands, which I call as – reality. Technical skills and reality, are the two aspects that the trainer needs to understand in and out. Technical skills can be taught by an expert, someone who is highly qualified in those skills, the god of god of that particular skill. For stitching, a talented and experienced tailor would do just fine. However, reality can only be taught by those who are facing and making the reality in the organization. They are the people on production floor – the operators, foremen, supervisors and production managers. “Reality training” should be give to trainers periodically by responsible people on the shopfloor, to ensure that the training department is always well aware of the demand on shopfloor. Another way that can be suggested is to make the trainers work on the shopfloor for some proportion of their working time. Like 1 week per month. Only when the trainers are aware of the reality, can they face and tackle the reality.

A department level restructuring will generally be required to make this happen. Fig.1 shows the restructuring that was proposed by me at the renowned Indian apparel manufacturer

Fig. 1


1) Train on skills rather than tasks

Skill requirement matrix gives an insight into skills required on the shopfloor in a collective manner. Training method can be modified to suit the skill requirement rather than task requirement. Instead of training the newly joined operators on particular tasks, it is wiser to train them on skills and let them pick speed on their own by job-rotation on shopfloor. This opens door for multi-skilling. Multi-skilling is a very important weapon, whose value any production manager would be able to appreciate.

2) Two-pronged training for Trainers

Technical training by Training dept head and reality training by supervisors/team leads

This creates way for better accountability. After all, the actual people who are face predicament because of ineffective new operators are production floor personnel – the foreman, supervisors and production managers. Now, in this new envisaged system, the production floor personnel have the power to actually do something about it. They are now indirectly responsible for the kind of training that is provided to newly joined operators. It is evident that the blame game comes to an end and an attempt to lay out a neat plan for training will be made. Now, the production personnel understand that they will bear the fruits of opening up the reality, facing it and trying to tackle it through training. They will be oblige.

3) Training method for new operators

Training for newly joined operators was split into first phase and second phase, with a short stint on production floor. The training for new operators should happen in the following manner

a. New operators join at Grade D.

b. First phase of 4-7 days of training in training department will teach fundamental skills.

c. 2-3 weeks of fhort stint on production floor will give them a chance to use those fundamental skills and also understand how work really happens on shopfloor. At this time, they will be under observation of trainers on shopfloor

d. Second phase of 4-7 days of training, back in the training department, will train them on ancillary skills and job specific knowledge

e. Permanent deployment on the shopfloor, however they will be kept under observation by trainers till they reach 6 months of employment and get auto upgraded to Grade D+.

4) Job rotation for trainers

Trainers will have to work in three different teams

a. first phase training, which provides fundamental skills to newly joined operators

b. second phase training, which imparts ancillary skills and job specific knowledge

c. Hand holding trainers who observe newly joined operators on shopfloor, interact with production personnel and give assistance to newly joined operators when shopfloor personnel notices such issues

Job rotation among the three teams will give trainers a better insight of reality, which will enable better training to newly joined operators

This transformation is still in the nascent stage. It is going to take a few months to enable a radical change in training department structure and implementation of new training method.


It is evident that training needs to be looked at differently. Most Indian companies are neglecting training and letting the skill deficit situation take its own course. That only leads to firefighting and increased avoidable work for people on production floor. Training creates a direct and significant impact on the topline. Sooner is this link realized, better is the opportunity for companies to introduce a change in the way they work.

Author: Hrishikesh Deshpande, Credits Mr. Anand Deshpande, Founder & CEO – Admaa Consulting & Mr. Amitabha Chattopadhyay, COO – Admaa Consulting



[1] Jeffrey Liker, David Meier, Toyota Talent, ed 2007, McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing

[2] Jeffrey Liker, David Meier, The Toyota Way ed 1, McGraw Hill Professional Publishing

[3] Paul Collyer .(2012). Systematic Training of Sewing Industry Operators – An Introduction.


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